Voters recall Seattle Mayor Hiram Gill from office on February 7, 1911.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 3/08/2001
  • Essay 3056
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On February 7, 1911, Seattle voters recall Mayor Hiram Gill (1866-1919) and choose George W. Dilling (1869-1951) to replace him. The recall is based on Gill's permissive attitude towards gambling and prostitution. Women, who had been granted the right to vote three months before, are a deciding factor in the totals. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer declares, "It was the home people and the fathers and mothers voting for a clean city government that won yesterday's election."

Gill was elected in 1910 with a promise to keep vice confined to an area south of Yesler Way. He also opposed taxes on businesses and the public ownership of utilities. Gill's election stimulated reform forces to organize the Public Welfare League (PWL) on June 16, 1910. The Public Welfare League, the Clean City Organization, the Municipal League, and the Ministerial Federation combined to support a broad spectrum of reform issues on a non-partisan basis. One such issue became the administration of Mayor Gill.

Gill appointed as chief of police a man who had been dismissed for corruption. A journalist reported that, "cigar stores and barbershops did a lively business in crap-shooting and race-track gambling, drawing their patronage largely from school boys and department-store girls ... All over the city 'flat-joints,' pay-off stations, and dart-shooting galleries were reaping a rapid harvest... in the thirty or forty gambling-places opened under the administration of Hi Gill" (Berner, 119).

When two "vice lords" built a 500-room brothel on Beacon Hill with a 15-year lease from the city, the Public Welfare League began to circulate a recall petition targeting Gill. Gill was also accused of collusion with the Seattle Electric Co., which had been forced to lower its electric rates because of competition from Seattle City Light. Gill appointed former Seattle Electric official Richard Arms as superintendent of City Light over the popular and effective James Delmage ("J.D.") Ross (1872-1939). An investigation confirmed misfeasance by Arms.

Under the city charter, voters were offered the choice of retaining Gill or selecting a new mayor. The reform forces ran real estate man George W. Dilling. Dilling polled 6,000 more votes than Gill. Of the 23,000 women registered to vote, 20,000 voted in this election. In the downtown First Ward, Seattle Police Officers loyal to Gill attempted to arrest pro-Dilling poll observers, but were stopped by King County Sheriff's Deputies.

Dilling officially took office on February 10, 1911. Among his first acts were to appoint Seattle Police Capt. Claude Bannick as Chief of Police, and James Ross as Superintendent of the Lighting Department.

Gill ran again for mayor unsuccessfully in 1912, but he was returned to office in 1914 and again in 1916.


Clarence Bagley, The History of Seattle from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. 3 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1916), 367; "George W. Dilling Elected Mayor," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 8, 1911, p. 1; "Old Mayor Out, New Mayor In At Rapid Rate," Ibid., February 11, 1911, p. 1; Richard C. Berner, Seattle 1900-1921: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration, (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991).

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